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Pujya Dr. K.C. Varadachari - Volume -4

Sri Aurobindo and his Philosophy of the Individual Self


Sri Aurobindo’s contribution to Indian philosophical problems are important and his rare insight into the literature of Indian philosophy coupled with an earnestness and serious purposiveness make it imperative on the part of students of Indian Philosophy to study him with care and disinterestedness. Sri Aurobindo in his philosophy tries to synthesise the manifold views of the world and points out that realization consists in the total understanding of Brahman which satisfies the demands of knowledge and experience, freedom and immortality.


His philosophy of the individual self is unique in some respects. How the One Supreme Brahman could become the many whilst continuing to be the one transcendent Brahman, is the main problem for the metaphysicians. The one-many problem as we shall call this, has given rise to several schools of philosophy such as Advaita, Visistadvaita, Bhedabheda and Dvaita; and all these theories have striven to prove the truth of the One or the many. What do we really mean by the term One? The term ‘many’ signifies that there are more than one or two entities which claim to be treated as separate and ultimate. We have many objects or things in the universe, many types of creatures, many kinds of trees and elements, and diverse kinds of gods. Do all these belong to or are all these derived form one single substance? If so what is the unitary nature of these which makes it possible for us to infer that they were all created from one single thing, even as many kinds of pottery are made out of mud or many varieties of ornaments are made out of gold. Is there any thing, or characteristic in common between matter, the souls and the Divine? We have to face this problem squarely and explain how the unconscient or inconscient is a degradation of the superconscient which is declared to be the source of all these. How does the involvement occur- an involvement which annihilates for all practical purposes the very nature of conscient existence? Sankara explained this process of degradation by his theory of vivarta; Bhaskara explained it by his theory of limitation (upadhi): and Ramanuja explained this as due to a beginningless ignorance or karma on the part of the individual soul which undergoes this degradation of its own perceptive or cognitive consciousness though not its substantial consciousness. Yadavaprakasa explained this as due to the self-limitation manifesting itself in triple divisions of its own pure Cit-nature. Sri Aurobindo explains this degradation or more truly involution as the descent of the Spirit itself into material nature. Matter itself is but the involved consciousness, consciousness wrapped in its own inner repetitiveness. If all is Brahman, the postulation of either an illusory principle or limiting adjunct or even the principle of beginningless karma or self-fulguration into triple utterly different kinds of substances would be untenable. We have to find this principle in the Divine itself. This is the involutive or descent activity in the Divine or Brahmic nature itself. It manifests itself in matter. Equally does it in the vital, conscient intellectual, conscient intuitional, superconscious Overmind and superconscient supermind and others. Thus we explain the source of the manyness of the planes. But what of the manyness of the objects themselves, or for that matter the more important manyness of the souls themselves? Is the ego of the individual ultimately immortal and eternal, that is, incapable of being refunded or absorbed into the One Eternal, or is it to exist in it?


It may be asked how the multiplicity of souls could be explained. We know full well that the difficulty in the case of derivation of all souls from one primeval substance is greater than in the case of matter. For matter, it has been conceded by all, is something that changes, that is, it is that which undergoes change in the form of origination and destruction. Not so souls which are considered to be immortal, unborn (aja). The main target of criticism of the Pancaratra theory is alleged to be the doctrine of origination of the souls. The manyness in advaita is explained as due to illusion or avidya. This explanation of the many is no explanation in one sense, for the manyness is denied not explained. Manyness had never been. But what Sri Aurobindo points out is that the manyness cannot be explained away. The many are real. But what about the unity acclaimed, the unity that does not go contrary to the immortality and unborness of the souls? Sri Aurobindo solves it by saying that Brahman is himself the multiplicity. It is necessary to consider Brahman is a real many metaphysically, causally and logically. Metaphysically Brahman is the transcendent substance; causally it is the primary cause that co-exists with manyness in bringing about the various planes of matter, mind, overmind and others; and logically it is the ground, the unchanging self-identical Being who is the reason for the cosmos and becoming. The teleological purpose of Brahman, if we have to speak of that, is Delight, a Delight that is of being as well as of becoming.


“It is the Lord Himself, the Isvara, who by virtue of the eternal multiplicity in His oneness., exists for ever as the immortal soul within us and has taken up this body and goes forth from the transcient frame-work when it is cast away to disappear into the elements of nature.” (Essays on the Gita. pp. 276-277. italics mine).


Again in the Life Divine Sri Aurobindo writes:

“The one harmonic rhythm of a complex world-existence – not of the material universe alone, as we shall see – is the music indeed of one existence whom in its completeness, purnam, inconceivable by our limited minds, we call the Absolute, but its oneness is not an exclusive unity; it is eternally multiple and manifold.”

Thus Brahman is at once the eternal oneness in His manyness. It is the sutra, the thread which runs centrally, that is upholding unities in all the planes. 

The concept of underlying unity in multiplicity is illustrated at least in one instance in the philosophy of the tantras namely the Pancaratra. It is the antaryamin. The idea of the antaryamin in the upanisads can be correlated with this. The antaryamin is the Divine Transcendent Himself who has entered into the creation after having created it. This entering by the supreme into the heart of each of the creations as their antar-atma is conceivably the manyness of the One transcendent Brahman. This it is that makes it possible for the seer to see the Divine in all things.


It may be thus taken for granted that the antaryamin concept is fruitful and can act as the source and inspiration of this concept of unity in multiplicity. The transcendent enters into the creation as the soul of creatures and in so doing does not lose its transcendent nature. This points to a difference however between the Pancaratra concept of the antaryamin and that of Sri Aurobindo. The souls are treated as separate from the antaryamin who is their ruler immortal, but the antaryamin is not the soul itself. It is what the soul aspires to reach and attain, and attains in its mystic union, as also within itself as its own deepest selfSri Aurobindo however postulates the identity of the souls and the antaryami.


We conclude that in thus blending the several planes and categories of reality in an integral manner, Sri Aurobindo gives us a truer picture of reality, a truer metaphysical basis that the speculative fictions of idealism or essentialism or realism. Sri Aurobindo points out that if metaphysics means a theory of reality, then, that metaphysics should not do away with the reality of experience of any grade whatever. That the higher planes of consciousness are seen to uphold the lower is the real starting-point. Spirit even is lower than Brahman. Brahman is all and sustains all, and is that which displays Itself in a two fold manner as Delight in Being and Delight in Becoming which It weaves in the texture of Process or Divine Evolution. The Syntheses achieved by vital prana in the immobile matter, by the lower mind in prana and matter, by the over-mind in mind, prana and matter reveals the progressive unfoldment of the secret of unity.


But the truth of this great Divine Synthesis or Yoga is to be consciously accepted by man. As against the common view that “evolution happened in the animal, it has to be willed in the human”, the view that Sri Aurobindo upholds is that this willing on the part of the human being consists in the acceptance, surrender and offering of himself and all that he holds dear to the Divine, so that the divine may fulfil the synthesis on the unique laws of the superconscient of which the human is hopelessly unaware. This sadhana is thus the consecrated surrender for the purposes of the evolution of the Divine. Man has to withdraw himself from the material orgy, and, in so withdrawing himself, behold the still, unflickering light of the Divine, become dynamically receptive to its treatment and ordering. He must offer himself and all that he means to himself in fullest submission to the Antaryamin, prefigured here as the Mother, as the Teacher, Guru, and as the most supreme Self of all.